Sat, 03 Apr 2004

U.S. remains preferred destination T. Sima Gunawan Contributor Jakarta FOR Focus Issue - April 4, 2004 - Overseas Study

Studying abroad is the dream of many students who want the chance not only to pursue a good education, but also to broaden their horizons and to learn a foreign language.

This, however, does not necessarily mean that all foreign educational institutions are good or that all universities in Indonesia are bad -- even though the country does have problems with its education system.

In general, studying abroad, especially in a developed country like the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany or The Netherlands, can boost one's self-esteem. Many Indonesians also tend to have a high regard for the graduates of foreign university's, regardless of the quality of the institutions.

But those who really want to study, not just get the experience of living abroad, should be careful when selecting an education institution.

"If you want to study in the United States, make sure the university has been accredited by the U.S. government," said Richard L. Carhart, executive director of the American Indonesian Exchange Foundation (Aminef), adding that there were 3,360 accredited universities in the U.S.

Basically, the first thing to do is to decide what you want to major in and then make a list of universities that offer the field of study you are interested in. Many books about universities in the United States are available at Aminef, which is located in the Balai Pustaka building on Jl. Gunung Sahari in Central Jakarta.

Every Thursday, Aminef holds a preadmission orientation for people who want to study in the United States. There is no charge to join the orientation but students who want a private consultation are charged Rp 50,000 (about US$6) per session, according to Hanif Saleh, an adviser at the Aminef Educational Advising Service. He added that members do not have to pay and to become a member the fee is Rp 150,000 a year. For those interested in graduate study, Aminef's Fulbright commission offers scholarships for qualified Indonesian students.

America remains the most preferred destination for Indonesian students studying overseas. The number of Indonesian students in the United States is currently between 10,000 and 11,000. However, there was a decline of between 8 percent and 9 percent in the number of Indonesian students in the U.S. in 2002, a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the tightening of visa procedures.

"The procedures are easier now," said Carhart.

Aminef also helps students with information about visa application procedures, he said. However, it is unlikely the U.S. government will issue a visa for students who are accepted at unaccredited universities.

Once they are accepted to a university, students are suggested to remind the school to send them the I-20 form, which is used when applying for a visa.

As soon as students receive the I-20 form, they must contact the U.S. Embassy to set up an appointment for an interview.

Being accepted to a university does not automatically mean that you will be granted a visa. Besides having a valid passport and other necessary documents, students should also be able to show that you have sufficient funds. They are also encouraged to include a letter of recommendation from a local religious leader or another public figure in the community.

"The process (of applying for a visa) may take three or four weeks," said Ade Kusuma, an education counselor at the Canadian Education Center.

The Canadian Education Center, located in the World Trade Center on Jl. Sudirman in Central Jakarta, is open to anyone interested in studying in Canada.

Kusuma said that unlike universities in the United States, almost all of the 90 universities in Canada were run by the government.

Currently there are about 500 Indonesian students in Canada, and this number has increased slightly over the past few years.

Accommodation is another important thing that needs to be looked into. It is not something that should cause too much worry though, because most universities have dormitories for students. Some U.S. universities even oblige new students to stay in the dorms for the first year. If you are a nonsmoker, don't worry about being mixed with smokers, because before assigning roommates, universities send students questionnaires asking about their habits and preferences. Therefore, if you like peace and quiet, it is unlikely that you will share a room with a party animal.

One benefit of living on campus is that you can save money on transportation. But if the university does not oblige new students to stay in the dorms and you prefer to stay off campus, or if there is no more room in the dorms, there are usually numerous rooms and apartments available within a short distance of most universities.

There are many factors to consider other than the price when deciding on accommodation, like safety. It is also necessary to ask whether the room or the apartment is furnished. Telephone and Internet access is quite easy in the U.S. and Canada, so if you want, you can have a private line in your room.

"Actually we don't recommend new students live in an apartment off campus. A dorm or a homestay will be more suitable," Kusuma said.

Living in a dorm is a little cheaper than a homestay, but the latter has its own advantages. Those who have never been to Canada before might prefer a homestay because it will allow them to learn more about the culture and the language as they are directly involved with the family, according to Kusuma.

Almost all universities, both in Canada and the U.S, have an international students office, which is ready to help foreign students who have questions about accommodation or any other matters.

The biggest problem facing Indonesian students abroad actually has nothing to do with visas or accommodation.

"As they are living far away from home in a country with a different culture, many suffer from homesickness. But the students can get over it quickly. They adjust well," Carhart said.